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Arrival of iconic vintage causes ripples of excitement

China Daily | Updated: 2011-03-19 07:49

The release of new vintages from Penfolds is always a special moment.

News that samples of eight of the 2008 and 2009 special bin wines had arrived for review sent ripples of anticipation among my colleagues. This and later columns will consider those wines.

Penfolds is one of Australia's most iconic and traditional wine companies. Chief winemaker Peter Gago said the 2008 and 2009 bin wines could be the strongest from the first decade of this century. The release also marked the launch of a newcomer to the collection, the 2008 Bin 150 Marananga shiraz.

Vineyard staff had to tolerate a 15-day heat wave after near-perfect growing conditions in South Australia.

"The 2008 harvest is certainly a vintage of two parts - a statement pertaining to the profound differences of fruit picked before and after the extreme heat wave of March 3-16," Gago says.

Luckily, the company picked a large proportion of the best grapes before the heat. "Much of our better fruit comes from older, self-regulating vines of lower yield vines that ripen earlier - quite opportune in a year with such an ill-timed heat wave."

Marananga is a sub-region of the Barossa Valley in South Australia, one of the best places to grow shiraz in Australia. The town of Marananga is close to the center of the valley. Warm and dry conditions and rich red soils provide the backbone for some of the region's best-known wines.

This shiraz is dark cherry in color and tastes like ripe blackberries picked on a hot summer's day. The wine received 12 months in an equal mix of new and old French and American oak, and the quality of the oak shows in the intense vanilla aromas of the wine.

The tannins are seamlessly integrated and the wine is soft and drinkable, though it could be cellared for at least five years. This is a bold yet seductive wine that is a tribute to the Penfolds range. It sells for $65 in Australia.

The Bin 128 shiraz from Coonawarra is quite a different wine.

Coonawarra is a relatively cool area in South Australia and shiraz from this region differs markedly to shiraz from the Barossa. The 2009 vintage tastes of violets and offers more peppery and spice flavors compared with the sweet spices of the Barossa wine. It has a firmer structure and the tannins are more savory.

Gago said Bin 128 represented a blend of Penfolds' mastery of shiraz with the unique climate and growing conditions of Coonawarra, to create a wine that delivers a distinctly regional twist to the classic Penfolds style. This Coonawarra shiraz sells for $40 in Australia.

The 2009 Penfolds Bin 138 is a blend of grenache, shiraz and mourvdre grapes. Gago described it as a good old-fashioned Barossa red "unencumbered by new oak".

The soft feel of grenache mixes well with the darker berry fruits of shiraz and the earthiness of mourvdre. Expect flavors of chocolate and licorice. This is a food-friendly wine that would match French provincial cooking or barbeque ribs. It sells for $30 in Australia.

(China Daily 03/19/2011 page12)

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